When I came to Japan 30 some years ago I met a young woman from Venezuela who was married to a young Japanese man. They were newly married and were planning to live in Japan and Gladys and I studied Japanese together. Gladys' husband, Hajime, had a good friend, Tetsu and it was through them that Tetsu and I met and later married.
Gladys had her problems (as I later did!) adjusting to Japanese life. She would often visit me and bemoan some of the Japanese customs and nuances. I didn't know much and it was interesting for me to hear about in-laws and living as a Japanese housewife. Tetsu and Hajime and Gladys and I often double dated out of necessity! Tetsu and I couldn't talk to each other! I spoke to Gladys in English, Gladys spoke to Hajime in Spanish and Hajime spoke to Tetsu in Japanese! It was always a long drawn out conversation with a lot of mistranslations!
One day Gladys turned up at my door.
"I've left him! I'm not going back! Hajime's father died yesterday! They're planning the funeral today."
"What! You can't leave your husband because his father died. What happened?"
"I'm sorry for Hajime but I just cannot be the proper eldest son's Japanese wife. I don't understand all of that and I don't know what I'm going to be asked to do. I'm not going back until after the funeral!"
Tetsu called me about then asking if I knew where Gladys was. The family was in an uproar because she'd disappeared. (My Japanese had improved somewhat over the months that we had dated.)
"Umm. She's here. She says she's not going to go home until after Hajime's father's funeral. She's afraid of all the customs and doesn't know what is expected of her as the eldest son's wife."
"Tanya. Gladys HAS to be there! She HAS to be there to save face for the family! Even though she's a foreigner she HAS to be there for Hajime!"
We went back and forth with me translating for Tetsu and Gladys.
"Wait a minute, Tetsu. Give me a run down on the day's proceedings so that Gladys can know what to expect and what she has to do."
"Okay. She just stands besides Hajime and the family during the chanting. No one understands anything so it doesn't matter if she doesn't understand. After the service the family will go to the crematorium and they'll wait while the body is cremated." (Ooh. This is beginning to sound bad.) "Then the family will pick up the bones with chopsticks and put them in an urn."
"WHATTTT!!!????" That was me.
"What? What? What?" That was Gladys.
"I don't think I understood him. Quick get my Japanese-English dictionary. I don't think I understood one of those words. It isn't possible that somebody would pick up bones with chopsticks!"
Sorry. It's true. Japanese crematoriums just incinerate enough to leave bones. Not ashes. And the custom is for the family to pick up bones one by one together, two pairs of chopsticks holding one bone, and place them in the urn. That's one reason why one NEVER passes a piece of food from one pair of chopsticks to another pair of chopsticks while eating. Did you need that bit of trivia? That's enough details.
Tetsu did convince Gladys to fulfill her duties as the eldest son's wife but she stayed FAR in the background at the crematorium.
So you see. At least I knew what I was getting into when I married Tetsu and decided to live in Japan...